Faces of the GSAS Writing Studio
Doctoral students writing their dissertations explain how the GSAS Writing Studio has provided essential services and support.
Valerie Bondura, PhD Candidate in Anthropology
GSAS Writing Studio Fellow
“I facilitate one of the writing groups, which I’ve set up like a [writing] workshop. I’m also completing my own dissertation. We’re all doing this together, which is great. We meet each week for two hours. For the first hour, each week a different student shares what they’re writing—usually a chapter from their dissertation, or sometimes an article or conference paper they’re working on based on their dissertation. Then the rest of the group provides feedback, which is valuable because it’s an interdisciplinary group with students writing about radically different topics — theatre, ethnomusicology, Italian, and political science — so we have a fruitful intellectual environment. People come up with ideas that you would never think of because they are in different departments. It’s also helpful to read other dissertations while working on your own — to see how other writers manage their challenges. This process has helped my writing immeasurably. It’s a rare opportunity, and it is impactful.
"For the second hour, we have silent coworking time. This is valuable because it forces all of us to reserve time in our schedule. We quietly work independently in the same room. It’s a great thing we can offer in the Studio—to progress as part of a community.”
Danielle Drees, PhD Candidate in Theatre
Member of Valerie Bondura’s Writing Group
“I’m researching gender and labor in contemporary theatre and performance art; my dissertation focuses on plays and performances about sleep and how sleep onstage can help us understand relationships of care and interdependence. In my writing group, I workshopped a paper I’m presenting at a conference this summer. The feedback I received from my fellow dissertation writers helped move my draft presentation toward its goal of communicating clearly with an interdisciplinary and international audience.
"The dissertation-writing group has been a valuable component of my writing process and has been one of the best resources for successful writing available outside my own department. Having worked as a writing teacher and tutor for the past decade, I know that research shows the value of sharing your writing regularly—no one learns to write well in isolation. My writing group is an incredible resource for support, accountability, critique, and collegiality. Everyone in it is so brilliant, funny, kind, and eager to learn new things. I look forward to seeing Valerie, Ira, Velia, and Niki every week.”
Franziska Landes, PhD Candidate in the Earth and Environmental Sciences Program
Member of Emily Yao’s “Finish Line” Writing Group
“The Finish Line meets every Tuesday for three hours. I find it very valuable to have a block of time on my calendar in which I know I will be doing nothing but writing and will be with other people writing, and that they are expecting me to be there. It’s not important to me if they’re in the same discipline. I actually like being with people from different disciplines to see how their writing goes.
"We start with a check-in, which scaffolds the writing process; we each create a concrete goal and share it with one another, which makes us accountable. Then we all write for around two and a half hours, and then do another check-in at the end to share what we accomplished. The social norms and pressures are helpful — just knowing that everyone else is writing too and we are all pushing the dissertation along.”
Mike Ford, PhD Candidate in Historical Musicology
Member of Jess Engebretson's Monday Morning Writing Group
"In April, I defended my dissertation prospectus, entitled 'An Agile Musicology: Improvisation in Corporate Management and Lean Startups.' In this project, I use the sophisticated ways of understanding improvisation from the field of musicology and apply them improvisations in non-musical contexts like agile development teams and entrepreneurs.
"The greatest benefit from the writing workshop was definitely the accountability for setting and meeting deadlines. It wasn’t that anyone would be mean if you didn’t do anything the past week, but knowing that I have to look my workshop mates in the eye compelled me to stay on track with my writing. They were also very generous with feedback on initial ideas and early drafts. Since [for each of my fellow workshop members] their expertise lies elsewhere, my writing had to be crystal-clear and persuasive to an audience outside my main field. The feedback that I received was very useful and ensured a logical flow of ideas throughout the document.
"The Writing Studio’s wide range of services are certainly beneficial to graduate students, whether they provide hard skills like citation methods, or softer factors like mutual support from peers. Furthermore, the Writing Studio facilitates collaborative work, which is so rare in most humanities disciplines. Finally, one should not discount the value of commiseration."